Milan Kundera’s 1984 novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is set in the Prague Spring era of 1968. The “lightness of being” refers to a sense of freedom; that the characters have one life to live and everything that happens to them is unique and occurs once in a lifetime. The novel explores the paradox of lightness versus heaviness. Does a sense of lightness make life less significant, or does feeling the burden of life make it more meaningful? Philosophy and fiction aside, when we examine our own lives we can observe times of lightness and other times when life seems heavy. Maybe we’re on holiday and really relaxed and all is well with our world. Or we’re under pressure at work with a pressing deadline with so many other things to do that we feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious.
When we stop for a moment during the day and really take the time to pause and check-in with ourselves, we may notice a range of things going on. Parts of our body may be tight and tense. One quite common experience is a quiet sense of unease hovering in the background, as if either we’ve done something wrong, or something is wrong with our situation, but we can’t quite remember what it was. Our mind may be restless, with some anxious or depleting thoughts about our story or situation, but the mind does not know what to do with itself. Does any of this resonate or sound familiar? When we’re under pressure this restless, slightly uneasy and heavy state is a common experience. As if the force of gravity is pulling us down.
During the day it’s natural that we come across difficulties and challenges. These could be anything from a train delay, a bad-tempered response from a colleague, or too many emails. Maybe there’s some future worry that’s been hanging around unresolved. Or perhaps we had a disagreement with our partner before we left the house? All of these events cause us to react emotionally as well as physically in some way. They may well lead to a stream of thoughts that keep the emotions going for longer as well. And every little challenge is stacked on top of what we’re already holding in ourselves at that moment. Like adding more rocks in the rucksack on our back.
Sometimes feeling like this happens every day so becomes normal. And what becomes normal becomes more difficult to notice. If we discover that we’re in a state like this, do we just accept that’s the way things are, or is it possible to lift ourselves out and defy the gravity of our self-imposed burdens?
The good news is that we can change this situation, by simply being more aware of what’s going on and letting go of clinging onto feelings and thoughts, about the past or future, that are not serving us in this moment. This does not mean that the challenges go away by themselves, or that problems do not need to be resolved. We can work through these and find solutions at another time, but it’s not necessary to carry this accumulated burden of restlessness and unease around with us now. Underneath these layers of stress, low mood, and anxiety we can discover what’s already there: a lightness of being that’s quietly waiting in the background of our experience.
Next time you discover that you’re feeling a bit heavy, take a short break and go outside if you can:
- Start by noticing and acknowledging the whole tangled state of feelings, thoughts and physical tensions that limit and weight-down who you are in this moment.
- Then take a deep breath and see if you can let go of the whole illusion. Like a plane rising above the clouds, or an air balloon that lifts as it releases ballast.
- Allow a half-smile to appear on the corners of your mouth, as you take another deep breath.
- Ask yourself, “What problems do I have in this moment?”
- Already feeling lighter – reaching out to the world around you through your senses.
- Noticing colours and the play of light from the sun.
- Looking up at the broad, open sky and expanding your hearing out as far as it will go.
- Connecting with a sense of spaciousness and stillness and feeling full of vitality and aliveness.
- As you take a walk, notice how your body supports your weight so that each footstep feels as if you’re almost defying gravity, reinforcing your lightness of being.
- Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then close your eyes while this meditation plays to explore lightness of being.
Suggested weekly practice
- Set the intention to live lightly during the week; living with ease by practising acceptance rather than resistance and flowing with your experience.
- Noticing when tension, tightness, and heaviness start to appear during the day and taking time to relax, release and let go.
- When you’re walking notice how light your body can feel as the muscles work, putting a spring in your step.
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